The Wright Call
By Dave Wright
A month or so ago, Highland Park cross-country coach Brad Moening was asked to look ahead and guess who would be the biggest threat to the Scots’ girls’ team in their pursuit of a second state Nordic title in three years. “Duluth East and Forest Lake,” he said. “We faced each of them once already and we know what we’ll need to do.”
Highland’s depth proved to be just enough, indeed, to give the school its second state Nordic championship. The Scot’s 371 points edged out the Greyhounds and the Rangers to win the crown on February 16-17 at Giants Ridge in Biwabik.
Senior Molly Moening’s bid to become the first three-time state champion since Jessie Diggins fell just short, finishing third with a time of 34:24.7, 44 seconds off the lead. Teammates Hanna Koch was 12th and Chloe Koch finished 20th. Highland’s Sprint team of Silja Earl-Torniainen and Rayna Axelson took fourth to supply the other necessary points to allow the Scots to record a narrow three-point win.
Brad Moening, who also oversaw Highland’s winning effort in the state Class AA cross-country meet last November, was awed by the effort and career of his daughter. “Two state titles, two individual titles and then all the running stuff,” he told a reporter. “Pretty amazing athlete, all around.”
Frigid temps delayed the start on the second day of this month’s race. The extra rest helped Saint Paul Academy freshman phenom Inga Wing, who jumped from 21st to finish 15th overall. Thanks to the sprint tandem of Maren Overgaard and Helen Townley’s fifth-place finish, SPA had 278 points to place 10th, two points ahead of Eden Prairie.
On the boys’ side, junior Davis Isom placed second to lead the Scots to a fifth-place finish in the team competition. Highland’s sprint duo of Alex Pfankuch and Max Reemtsma finished sixth. Central’s Charles Ostergren capped his excellent career with a 12th-place finish in boys’ pursuit.
But the day belonged to the Scots’ girls, many of whom also ran cross-country. As sad as Brad Moening will be to see his daughter move on—she will attend NCAA ski power Vermont in the fall—he’s likely comforted by what could lay ahead. The other four skiers who were at Biwabik can return next winter. Chloe Koch is a junior. Stephanie Jones is a sophomore, and Hanna Koch and Alex Pundsack are freshmen.
At the state Alpine event on February 16 also at Giants Ridge, Minnehaha Academy senior Grace Torgerson roared to a second-place finish, a mere .35 of a second behind Duluth East’s Lauren Carlson. Saint Thomas Academy’s Tommy Ondrey was 42nd for the boys.
Aurora to kick off women’s pre-pro soccer
The Minnesota Aurora FC women’s soccer team has a season schedule, ticket plan, stadium and coaches in place. But that’s the easy part. The tough sledding comes now as it looks for players and hires other staff members to get the enterprise off and running.
The Aurora FC is a pre-professional soccer team in the newly formed USL W League. The team just announced that it will play its home games at the Vikings’ TCO Stadium in Eagan. The Aurora will consist of players who are hoping to gain playing experience and set themselves up to be considered by one of the teams that make up the professional National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
“It’s absolutely a training ground of sorts,” said head coach Nicole Lukic. “We’ll help find the players housing and a few other things while adhering to NCAA standards to keep them eligible.”
The Aurora started small with just a vision. “A bunch of us met in a parking lot near a brewery one day,” recalled founding member Andréa Carroll-Franck, who played soccer for Highland Park High School and now serves as kicking coach for the Scots’ football team. Other like-minded people were soon brought into the fold. The next you knew, the team had a president (Andrea Yoch), a CFO (Ramsey County budget director Susan Earle) and several other soccer aficionados.
Lukic, who is also the director of operations for the Twin Cities Rush Soccer Club, quickly signed two former Division I players as assistant coaches. Earlier this month, the team announced its first player signing—goalie Sarah Fuller. She played last fall for North Texas, but started her career at Vanderbilt where she played soccer and also saw action as the placekicker for the Commodore football team. She made history as the first female to record a point in a Power 5 football game when she booted a pair of extra points in a 2020 game against Tennessee.
As this is written, five more players have cast their lot with the Aurora. Lukic is spreading the word far and wide, using the contacts she made while playing for Wisconsin-Milwaukee, serving as an assistant at Wisconsin-La Crosse and earning a master’s degree in athletic administration at Ohio University.
Practice begins in May
The plan is to have 25-30 players on hand when practice begins May 9. “It’ll be a bit of a hodgepodge at first,” Lukic said. “Some players may be late because of college obligations.”
The official opener will be played on Thursday, May 26, against Green Bay at TCO. Lukic is also hoping to play an exhibition game or two before starting the 12-game regular season, which will run through July 9.
The USL W is a six-division, 37-team league. The Aurora landed in the Heartland Division along with Green Bay, Saint Louis, two Chicago teams and Kaw Valley from Lawrence, Kansas. Counting the playoffs, a team could play as many as 15 games.
As for a style of play, Lukic said, “I like attacking players with good technical skills.” More important than that, however, is an intangible. “We want to build a good culture here,” she said.
Lukic is not limiting herself when it comes to finding talent. “If Carli Lloyd (who was on two Olympic gold medal teams, scored 154 international goals and played in the NWSL until retiring last October) wants to play, I’ll find her a place to live,” Lukic said.
Meanwhile, the hunt is on in the college ranks for players who hope to use the Aurora as their launching pad to a pro career.
Dave Wright can be reached at email@example.com.
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